TIME Virtual Reality

Here’s Why Valve’s Virtual Reality Controllers Are So Vital

HTC Vive
HTC HTC Vive

Everything gets infinitely more immersive

As of last week, I’ve finally tried all three major, high-end virtual reality headsets: Oculus VR’s Rift, Sony’s Morpheus and HTC/Valve’s Vive. From a new user’s perspective, all three experiences felt mostly similar. I’m convinced that when these headsets start hitting the market next year, a winner will be crowned based on available content, not differences in underlying technology.

But the Vive demo had something I hadn’t experienced yet, and it made the virtual reality experience much more immersive: VR-tuned controllers.

Before I tried the Vive, my experiences in virtual reality were mostly hands-free. I could look around various digital domains, but actually interacting with the ersatz world around me was largely either impossible or meant using the same kind of controllers designed for traditional video games (or, worse, a keyboard and mouse). The Vive demo, however, featured new controllers that look a bit like a sword hilt, designed specifically to let users manipulate objects and other elements in virtual reality.

What VR controllers actually let you do depends on the simulation you’ve got loaded up. In the demo I tried at a downtown New York City hotel on July 16, that meant a combination of clearing tiny fish out of the way of my scuba mask to get a better look at a humpback whale, grabbing the right ingredients out of a fridge and placing them in a pot to make soup, and failing miserably at rebuilding a broken robot. And all of these things felt incredibly natural and intuitive after just a minute or two.

HTC’s Vive won’t have a monopoly on virtual reality controllers; the Facebook-owned Oculus has announced a pair of its own, too. That these companies realize the importance of actual interaction in virtual reality is great news for fans of the medium. While modern VR totally blew me away the first time I used it, I was getting a little bored by the concept come time to put the Vive on. But the controllers added an entirely new element that’s got me thinking about much more complex possibilities in the virtual space, like adventure games (virtual reality Myst, anyone?), puzzlers (VR Monument Valley, yes please) and action titles (VR Star Wars: Lightsaber Battle, shut up and take my money).

Now, more than ever, I can’t wait to see the inevitably crazy ideas actual VR content creators cook up.

TIME Virtual Reality

Watch the Demo That Will Make You Want Virtual Reality Right Now

Mind-blowing, totally mind-blowing

One of the most talked-about virtual reality products, the Vive developed by games giant Valve and smartphone maker HTC, has been making the rounds with a particularly enticing demonstration: a brand new game in the massively popular Portal universe. Clips of what players see during the experience have cropped up here and there; now, you can watch the entire play through in the video above. In the demo, players find themselves inside a workshop tasked with assembling one of the game’s wisecracking robots, among other tasks. One of the important distinctions of Valve’s VR implementation is its unique controllers, which can be seen being used in this clip.

TIME Innovation

The Virtual Reality Gaming Revolution That Wasn’t

The real revolution came in the form of computers small enough to fit in your pocket

On a crisp fall evening in 1991, an excited crowd packed into London’s Wembley Stadium, the storied venue that had previously hosted the 1966 World Cup final and 1985’s Live Aid concert. That was in the past. This night, about 2,000 people gathered to stare directly into the future.

Inside the cavernous stadium stood a line of a dozen large, gray pods. From the outside, it looked like dystopian science fiction: people in pods, their heads sealed in helmets. Inside, though, they were flying in a cutting-edge virtual reality flight simulator that networked all the players into a single, computer-generated world. The launch event celebrated the first time the public could buy all-inclusive VR. People played all night. Orders were taken then and there.

Behind the scenes, the team that’d built the machines, an upstart British company called Virtuality, struggled to hold things together. They’d never attempted to link that many systems together; Virtuality’s engineers were literally writing code on the spot, hoping everything wouldn’t crash and burn. The result—chunky graphics and simple gameplay—would seem primitive today, but in 1991, it was a revelation.

Read the rest of the story at The Kernel, the Daily Dot’s Sunday magazine

TIME movies

See What It’s Like to Hunt Down YouTube Stars as Terminator With This Virtual Reality 360 Video

Thoroughly enjoyable

YouTube have teamed up with Paramount Studios and virtual reality (VR) production company Specular Theory to produce a 360-degree video that lets viewers be the Terminator, Variety reports.

The three-minute clip was uploaded by Lilly Singh (a.k.a IISuperwomanII) Monday and features other famous YouTubers—like Olga Kay, Matthew Santoro and Toby Turner—being hunted down by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer robot as he goes on a rampage through YouTube’s studios in Los Angeles, reports Variety.

Terminator Genisys: The YouTube Chronicles in 360 is a promotional project for the latest Terminator movie, which is out July 1.

The plot for the 360 video is simple and introduced by Arnie himself: a new Terminator has been sent from the future and it’s up to the YouTube stars to defeat him.

Viewers can watch the video with Google Cardboard’s VR viewer or on a phone, tilting it to explore different angles from the Terminator’s point of view, Variety says.

YouTube added support for VR videos to its site earlier this month.

[Variety]

TIME Gadgets

Here’s When Sony’s Virtual Reality Headset Is Coming Out

Project Morpheus Sony VR E3 2015
Bloomberg via Getty Images A member of the media plays a video game using a Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. Project Morpheus virtual-reality headset during a demonstration in Tokyo, Japan, on April 6, 2015.

30 games in development for Project Morpheus

Sony’s virtual reality headset for PlayStation is set to launch in the first half of 2016, according to a new report.

Project Morpheus, which will sell for “several hundred dollars,” will be one of the highlights during Sony’s presentation at this week’s E3 2015 gaming convention in Los Angeles, Calif., Wired reports. At least 20 games and experiences will be showcased during the presentation, scheduled for Monday at 6:00 p.m. PT.

Sony has a broad range of genres planned for the VR headset, according to Adam Boyes, Sony’s VP of publisher and developer relations. The company is tracking the development of 30 games for Project Morpheus, from small puzzle games to first-person exploration games.

Other VR headsets are also gearing up for their releases, including the highly anticipated Oculus Rift, which will open to pre-orders later this year for a shipping date in Q1 2016.

[Wired]

TIME Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality Star Wars Will Be a Thing

Star Wars Exhibition Previews In Melbourne
Scott Barbour—Getty Images Lynne Kosky (L), Victoria's Minister for Public Transport and Minister for the Arts has a lightsaber battle with an actor dressed as Darth Vader during a preview to the 'Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination' exhibition at Scienceworks on June 2, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia.

ILM is building a VR lab

If you love Star Wars, you’ve seen the incredible work that special effects company Industrial Light & Magic does in creating amazing characters and special effects. Now, the company founded by George Lucas wants to make the cinema experience even more immersive by bringing virtual reality technology into the mix.

The project is called the ILM Experience Lab, and will put viewers directly into the world of their favorite films, USA Today reports.

“ILMxLab is all about us leveraging our skills across all platforms,” Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy told the newspaper. “It’s the Wild West out there with new frontiers, and we’re all figuring out these new tools. Today, technology is in search of content. But we can bring an emotional experience to that technology.”

The first products this new division creates are expected to be related to Star Wars and debut later this year. The next film in the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens, debuts in December.

TIME Video Games

Here’s How Mark Zuckerberg Explains Virtual Reality

The Oculus Rift is arranged for a photograph during the Oculus VR Inc. "Step Into The Rift" event in San Francisco,   California, U.S., on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Facebook Inc.'s Oculus virtual-reality headsets will work with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 10 and use the software maker's wireless Xbox game controller. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg  *** Local Caption *** Palmer Luckey
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg The Oculus Rift is arranged for a photograph during the Oculus VR Inc. "Step Into The Rift" event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, June 11, 2015.

It's 'like you’re actually there'

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out his vision for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset in a Facebook post on Thursday that has racked up 70,081 likes and counting. Facebook bought the company behind the Rift, Oculus VR, last year in a deal worth $2 billion.

Zuckerberg hailed the device as so much more than a gaming console with head straps, arguing that it could be used to transport users into three-dimensional movies and virtual social settings with their friends.

“When you put on the Rift, you’ll be able to experience immersive virtual environments that create the feeling of ‘presence’ – like you’re actually there,” Zuckerberg wrote.

He continued:

“We developed state-of-the-art custom display technology to create immersive visuals, and precise head tracking, so you can move naturally in virtual environments. We integrated high quality VR audio into the Rift to convince your ears that you’re really there. And we invested a lot of effort in making the headset light, comfortable and easy to wear. Putting on the Rift is as easy as putting on a baseball cap.”

Oculus’ Rift headset will release in early 2016. Oculus has not yet disclosed the price for a headset.

TIME Video Games

How the Oculus Rift Could Help Xbox Crush PlayStation

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift Oculus Rift

It's all about Windows 10

No one expected this: Oculus VR said Thursday its Rift virtual reality headset will ship with Microsoft’s Xbox One controller as the Rift’s de facto way to play games.

Yes, there’s a crazy new contraption called Oculus Touch, hyped by founder Palmer Luckey himself during Thursday’s Oculus VR presser. The Touch looks like a pair of left/right Fitbits glommed onto Wii U nunchucks. It’s at least one possible future for VR input, if Luckey has his druthers. But let’s talk about the Oculus/Xbox One gamepad partnership, because in my view, the reason it’s happening at all is pretty straightforward when you think about Windows 10.

Oculus Rift has been a PC-centric technology from the outset. Maybe that changes in half a decade and we’ll all be dongled in to our smartphones or tablets. But today, if you want to tango with the half dozen head-mounted conceptual thingies scrambling to vie for our hearts and wallets, you generally need a good ol’ fashioned computer. And what do the lion’s share of good ol’ fashioned computers run now? Microsoft Windows.

Microsoft’s Xbox One gamepad, whether you agree with Palmer Luckey’s contentious claim that it’s the best controller in gaming (“It just is,” he said, as if his words might subliminally objectify reality on the spot), is certainly the best gamepad Redmond’s crafted to date. And it’s formally part of the Windows ecosystem, driver and developer supported and backward compatible with anything that worked with the company’s old Xbox 360 controller. It’s how you game with a gamepad in Windows right now as well as how you will when Windows 10 finally arrives this summer (sure, you can jury rig Sony’s DualShock 4 PlayStation 4 controller to work with Windows, but Sony doesn’t offer its own Windows drivers).

So in hindsight, not having some sort of partnership with Microsoft ought to have been the head-scratcher. If we assume Oculus Rift’s early adopters are going to be predominantly PC gamers — and I’d bet almost anything that’s going to be the case given how not consumer-friendly as well as culturally exotic these headsets are going to be for non-geeks — then the Xbox One deal becomes a natural corollary.

 

Folding the Rift into the Xbox One ecosystem then becomes just a baby step sideways. That’s especially true when you factor in Microsoft’s plan to load Windows 10 onto its dedicated gaming system in the near future, solidifying its promise to have a single, unified operating architecture across all of its platforms (both a first for Microsoft as well as anything else in gaming).

Where the Rift-Xbox partnership goes down the road, by all means speculate freely. But it’s an unambiguous coup for Microsoft — or the Facebook-owned Oculus, depending whom you think’s the more important water-carrier.

And however well Sony’s PlayStation 4 has been doing sales-wise, the Oculus-Microsoft news has to be chilling for the company’s own VR effort, Project Morpheus, confined to Sony’s platforms. That, and given how competent HTC’s Windows-centric Vive VR headset looks already, at this point…well, Windows has been a continuous, indefatigable, interface-leaping platform, whereas the PlayStations have all been devices-of-the-moment. That Oculus is thinking about this in those terms is why you should, too. Because this is bigger than the console wars trope, and it’s why challenging Microsoft in the long term is about so much more than monthly platform sales.

TIME Video Games

Here’s When You Can Buy Oculus’s Long-Awaited Virtual Reality Headset

Inside The 2014 E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo
Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg/Getty Images An attendee wears an Oculus VR Inc. Rift Development Kit 2 headset to play a video game during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Wednesday, June 11, 2014.

Oculus is also working on its own controllers

A consumer version of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is set to be released in the first quarter of next year, Oculus VR confirmed at a pre-E3 event Thursday. The Facebook-owned company has not yet revealed the Rift’s price, but it’s expected to cost upwards of $1,000 including a computer capable of powering the device.

Oculus Rift also announced a partnership with Microsoft that will mean players will be able to stream Xbox One games to the Rift headset via a computer running Windows 10.

The Rift will be packaged with the Xbox One controller, letting gamers control their characters through a familiar interface. However, Oculus also announced it’s working on its own controllers specifically designed for interacting with a virtual environment, though it isn’t clear if they will cost gamers extra.

The partnership between Microsoft and the Facebook-owned Oculus VR will give Microsoft a second toehold in the market for virtual and augmented reality headsets. Microsoft is also working on the HoloLens, an augmented reality headset that will work with the company’s upcoming Windows 10 software. However, where the HoloLens is being pitched as a productivity and content consumption tool, Oculus’ Thursday demonstration made it clear the Rift is primarily a gaming device.

Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 billion in a deal that closed last summer.

 

 

TIME Innovation

Google’s Ultra-Cheap Virtual Reality Now Works With iPhones

Google Cardboard iPhone VR
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images An attendee inspects Google Cardboard during the 2015 Google I/O conference on May 28, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif.

The headset costs around $20

Google released Cardboard for iOS to the App Store on Friday, officially bringing the company’s ultra-cheap virtual reality to iPhones.

The free app, which works in conjunction with a DIY mount costing about $20, is available for the iPhone 5 and above, and early reviews report a smooth experience. Google also unveiled at the annual I/O 2015 developer’s conference this week several other new changes to Cardboard, including supporting phones sized up to six inches.

Cardboard, unveiled last year at I/O 2014, was originally designed for Android phones and available on only Google Play — though that didn’t stop iPhone users from coming up with creative ways to use Cardboard with their iPhones.

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